Sep 21, 2017 – Weekly Capitol Update


Gov. Eric Greitens’ attempt to take control of the Missouri State Board of Education resulted in more turmoil as he removed a new board member who refused to go along with a plan to fire the state’s top K-12 education official and then appointed a replacement board member who later decided not to take the job. The eight-member board is the independent governing authority for the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.

The state constitution prohibits the board from having more than four members from the same political party, which traditionally results in a split of four Democrats and four Republicans. Greitens, however, seemed to create a de facto 5-3 Republican majority by appointing people with strong GOP ties to Democratic slots.

The first suspect appointment was Melissa Gelner of Springfield, whom Greitens designated an “independent” in picking her on July 31, even though her family exclusively has donated to Republican political candidates, including $500 to Greitens’ campaign. Greitens withdrew her appointment on Sept. 15.

In a letter to other board members, Gelner said she was ousted due to her refusal to bow to pressure from the Greitens administration to replace education Commissioner Margie Vandeven, who oversees day-to-day operations at DESE. Vandeven has held the post for nearly three years and is highly regarded among Missouri educators.

Greitens quickly replaced Gelner with Heidi Crane of Springfield, whose family donated at least $1,250 to Greitens’ campaign. Crane, who also was officially designated an independent, later declined the appointment. Greitens hasn’t yet announced another choice for the spot.

Previously, former state Sen. Delbert Scott, R-Lowry City, whom Greitens appointed to the board on July 31, declined to serve after learning of a state law that would have required him to quit his job as president of Kansas Christian College, a private school in Overland Park, Kan. On Aug. 23, Greitens appointed Lebanon business Doug Russell to fill the spot instead.

The first-year governor’s other state school board appointments are prominent Republican campaign operative Eddy Justice of Poplar Bluff and Kansas City lawyer Claudia Oñate Greim, whom Greitens appointed as a Democrat despite her strong personal and professional ties to Republicans. Oñate Greim is a former partner in the law firm of John Ashcroft, a Republican former Missouri governor and U.S. senator, and is married to Edward Greim, a top Missouri Republican Party attorney.



The Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District on Sept. 19 upheld the constitutionality of St. Louis City’s half-percent payroll tax levied on employers who do business in the city. The unanimous three-judge appellate panel’s ruling affirmed the decision of a lower-court.

A St. Louis business owner who challenged the payroll tax primarily argued that tax is invalid because it isn’t authorized by a state law passed by the General Assembly. However, the appeals court noted the Missouri Constitution empowers charter cities, such as St. Louis, to enact any local ordinances not specifically prohibited by state law or the constitution.

“Appellants have failed to meet their burden of proving the City exceeded its constitutional authority in enacting the Payroll Tax Ordinance and have not shown that the ordinance is inconsistent with the Constitution or limited or denied by the Constitution, by statute, or by the City’s charter,” Judge Philip Hess wrote for the court.

The half-percent sales tax is separate and distinct from the more widely known 1 percent earnings tax levied on all those who live or work in St. Louis City. The case, Thomas Neuner v. City of St. Louis, could be appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court.



Gov. Eric Greitens on Sept. 20 appointed state Rep. Paul Fitzwater, R-Potosi, to the Missouri Board of Probation and Parole. Fitzwater ‘s appointment comes after Don Ruzicka, another former Republican state representative, was forced to resign in June after a previously secret internal investigative report became public revealing that he and a board employee repeatedly played games during parole hearings in which try tried to work song titles or unusual words, such as “hootenanny” or “platypus,” into their questioning of inmates.

Fitzwater, who was first elected in 2010 and was serving the final term allowed him under term limits, had been chairman of the House Corrections and Public Institutions Committee. The governor must call a special election to serve out the remainder of Fitzwater’s House term, which runs through 2018. Fitzwater can begin serving on the parole board immediately but must be confirmed by the Senate when it reconvenes in January.



State Rep. John McCaherty, R-Fenton, unexpectedly resigned from the House of Representatives effective Sept. 18. His Sept. 15 resignation letter mentioned no reason for his departure, and its submission on a Friday night sparked speculation as to whether it was entirely by choice.

However, McCaherty, who was serving his fourth and final House term allowed under tern limits, told The Kansas City Star on Sept. 16 that he was leaving to focus on his 2018 campaign for Jefferson County executive. McCaherty’s House term runs through 2018. The governor must call a special election to fill the vacancy, which probably won’t take place until February at the earliest. The next legislative session begins Jan. 3.